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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gold Stars

I sometimes worry that the record-keeping element of homeschooling will be a real challenge for me. Yes, there's the habit aspect of it (just look at my blog--I'm not the best at maintaining a regular check-in for very long), but more than that, much of it goes so far counter to my feelings about learning (natural/organic/learner-directed) that I see it as a detraction from our journey.

Case in point: keeping a reading list. For my own reference, I love the idea. (Obviously! I even keep a widget here, to map my own explorations and perhaps spark discussion.) It gives us a visual record of the topics we've covered and the ideas we've discussed. But it can easily turn into a competition of sorts, and that turns me off. Our local library sponsors a Summer Reading Club every year. Children are encouraged to keep a log of the titles they've read (or had read to them), and they earn prizes based on the number of titles.

Um, yay?

Okay, I get that it's exciting to earn rewards, and to be recognized for your accomplishments.


After a certain point, I worry that the external motivation changes the essence of experience. I am sure that for most if not all participants in such programs, reading becomes more about accumulating a high number of entries than it is about gaining knowledge, enjoying entertainment, or otherwise doing it for its own merit. I flash back to memories of "reading marathons" in my own grade school days and becoming disillusioned because while I worked diligently through chapter books, other classmates would rack up a long list of Easy Readers and Little Golden Books (a title is a title, after all) and win Fabulous Prizes. Not only was it "not fair" in the sense that I'd put more time and effort into my reading, but it was ultimately "not fair" in that the focus had shifted from What I'm Doing to Why I'm Doing It. The reward had become the Prize, not the Book.

Yes, I realize that many situations in life require us to show the self-discipline to perform a task not for our own fulfillment but to satisfy the goals or gain the approval of others. In that respect, this is probably very good (and relatively benign) training for the Adult World. But the Adult World will suck the fun out of learning soon enough. Can't we just enjoy it for its own sake without worrying about justifying it to outsiders...just for a little while longer?

Even if something such as a reading list is not part of a group event but is only for the year-end portfolio, I still worry that we will become so focused on recording things that we will not have the freedom for unstructured exploration, free of expectation. Learning (at least at this age) comes so naturally that I often do not even consider an event worth recording until I see it defined and justified on someone else's portfolio or website. ("Wow, we introduced concepts of clasification and spatial relationships. Golly, and I thought we were just *playing*...")

It discourages me that I'll sometimes pause in the middle of something that we're doing and try to think of ways to spin the experience into something that sounds like a plausible Lesson, so I can justify our activites (to myself or others) as worthwhile. It's a necessary evil that I will have to defend what we're doing. That doesn't make me any more comfortable with the notion.


  1. The librarian looked at me as if I'd grown three heads when my reply to 'do you want to register him for the summer reading program' was 'no thanks, I believe reading is its own reward.' :D

    Seriously, I don't want them to equate reading with earning cheap plastic crap...or anything. I want them to continue to read and ask to be read to, because it is wonderful.

    As for record-keeping, what I've been doing is going online after each of our trips to the library and adding books to the 'book list' on my homeschooling blog. This way I am not stumped at the end of the year to remember the gobs of books they have enjoyed. It in no way influences which books we get at the it's about perfect.

    Good luck finding the right groove for your homeschooling-mojo.


  2. I dunno, Heather- my sisters and I always did the summer reading program- and always read WAY more than was on the list. I think for a kid, it can be kind of fun to see how much you can read, and be rewarded for pursuing something different from what most of your peers do. I always found it kinda cool that I read WAY more than anyone. It wasn't that it was a contest- but there was a sense of accomplishment in it. As I got older- the habit lasted as being something I love.

    Maybe for kids who don't have parents who read, it might be different. But I think its not a bad idea to encourage kids to read (or read MORE) by rewarding them, or even just logging how much they have read and say with them "wow- you read a LOT this year/summer/month/whatever.

  3. Being in Pennsylvania makes it harder, from what I've heard. Here in Utah, homeschoolers don't have to do anything beyond sending a notice to the local school district. PA's laws need changing!!!

  4. Interesting update/footnote. Pennsylvania is having major budget cuts, and one of the hardest-hit is the public libraries. The Philadelphia Free Library system will actually be *shutting down* come October. They say that it's just temporary, pending legislation, but it scares the hell out of me. OMG...if it weren't for my local library (which is linked to an enormous and wonderful larger regional system), we'd be losing a HUGE resource for much of our learning...and entertainment.

    Anyway. On one of the sites for information regarding funding and what individuals can do to help (from donations to lobbying), mention was made of how many books were read in "summer reading programs". So...the libraries are using things like this to justify their impact on the community.

    Not that they couldn't just use checkout records to do the same, mind you...